Krissy Taft, a Spring 2009 Island School alumna, is in her final semester at Middlebury College and has been very focused on senior thesis, which concerns the efficient use of the solar panels located in Middlebury’s own solar panel field. We got in touch with Krissy to hear more about her impressive project and how she is truly being a leader effecting change.

“I am a physics major, and I’ve added my own focus in environmental studies. One of my favorite physics professors has been in charge of getting our field of solar panels working. I’m really interested in renewable energy,  so I asked him if I could work with him this fall. One of the biggest issues with solar panels, second to their high cost, is that they are not very efficient at converting solar energy into electricity, so my professor and past students have been working to make our panels as efficient as possible.


Our system has a capacity of 140kW and consists of 34 solar trackers located in a field right behind our science center. Solar trackers can pivot around their posts, as well as adjust the angle of the solar panel. This allows us to point the panels exactly where we want to. On really sunny days, our computer system tells the panels to point directly where the sun is because that alignment allows them convert solar radiation into electricity most efficiently. Past physics theses have focused on this task of alignment on really sunny days. My project is actually looking at how our solar panels perform on cloudy days. When it is cloudy, light from the sun is scattered everywhere instead of coming down in direct rays. Our panels still point to where the sun is on cloudy days, but this might not be the most efficient alignment due to the fact that almost all the light coming from the sun is scattered at different angles.

My goal is to use data we’ve been collecting over the past two years to figure out how we should align our panels on cloudy days so that they operate with the highest efficiency. Hopefully whatever I find can be incorporated into the algorithms that tell our panels what to do every day!”

Congratulations to Krissy on her final semester at Middlebury and best of luck completing your senior thesis!

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